Early 2023 NFL Draft Sleepers: Defense

The offense has seen its fair share of sleeper picks in recent draft boards and mocks. What about the defensive side; who’s potentially got that “it” factor we’re not talking about?

I hope everyone enjoyed the first part of my early 2023 NFL draft sleepers list. Now for the defense. You can find more about these players and more in database that I help update here.

Don’t tell anyone!
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Defensive line:

Ruke Orhorhoro – Clemson

Ruke Orhorhoro is origionally from Nigeria. He played very little in 2019 and 2020, which he actually ended up redshirting for. He came into 2021 looking to just get time as a #3 DL, but due to injures ended up starting nine games in 2021 and played pretty well. The current Tiger was ok against the run and tackled well. He is a developing pass rusher as well. As the season went he got better as a pass rusher. Everyone knows Bresee and even Tyler Davis to a lesser extent, but Ruke could end up going a lot higher than people think if he comes out. He is a redshirt Junior. He could stay for his senior year and take over and be ‘the guy’ on the DL.

Jowon Briggs – Cincinnati

Briggs is another player that made that Cincinnati defense so good these past couple years. He is a little short at 6’1, but has good size at 315 and is a good athlete. He is a little bit of a projection in the NFL since Cincinnati uses him more as an end in their unique defense. 2021 was his best season overall. He played solid against the run and flashed some as a pass rusher with 23 pressures. If he can continue to develop he could definitely hear his name called early on day 3.

D’Anthony Jones – Houston

Jones is similar to Briggs in that Houston uses him as more of a end than a DL/tackle. He is 6’2 285 and has the build of a interior defensive lineman. So he is a little bit of a projection. He is even more athletic than Briggs. He is a very good pass rusher. Jones produced 34 pressures and 5.5 sacks essentially playing out of positions. He is a bit undersized so he will need to add some bulk. At the very least he should be able to contribute as a sub package pass rusher in the NFL.

Elijah Chatman – SMU

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Chatman is another undersized (6’1 290), but quick interior pass rusher. He is entering his third year as a starter at SMU. Even though he is undersized he is a very good run defender. He will make plays in the backfield, but seems to have plateau’d. He had 20 pressures in 2021 and just 2.5 sacks. His biggest issue has been finishing. If he can improve that and work on his tackling a little he should have a good shot at getting drafted.

Edge:

Shitta Sillah – Boston College

With six starts in 2021 he started to finally flash some of that potential he had. He has ideal size at 6’4 253 His first two play season were pretty mediocre. Sillah had just one sack but had 13 pressures in six starts. He is a real good run defender. If he can continue to get better he could hear his name on day three.

YaYa Diaby – Louisville

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Diaby is another guy who flashed some potential in 2020, then upped it in 2021. He is primed for a breakout in 2022. He only had 1.5 sacks last year but did have 22 pressures. The current Cardinal has ideal size at 6’4 255 and looks filled out. Also he has good arm length at 33 5/8ths” and big 10 1/2″ hands He does a good job of setting the edge and has even showed some ability to drop into coverage.

Yasir Abdullah – Louisville

Abdullah is Diaby’s teammate and actually produced more statistically. He showed some potential as a pass rusher in 2020 then really came on in 2021 he had 29 pressures and 10 sacks. His size holds back his potential in the NFL. He is 6’1 235 so he is undersized and looks like he will have to move to LB. He is very athletic and when Louisville dropped him in coverage he held up well showing he should be able to make the transition.

Rondell Bothroyd – Wake Forest

Bothroyd played some defensive line early on at Wake and despite his size he played ok. He had 30 pressures but only 1.5 sacks in 2019. The coaches finally moved him to edge in 2020. He has been a good run defender his whole career. Its really his pass rush that needed to come around and develop. He finally produced in 2021 with 37 pressures and 8 sacks, but his production was a bit inconsistent. He has great size at 6’4 260 with average arm length. If he can be a bit more consistent in 2022 he could go on day two.

Jeremy Lewis – East Carolina

Lewis is a former tight end. He spent his first two seasons there. He moved to edge in 2020 but didn’t play much. The former tight end started the last eight games of the season. In that short time he had 21 pressures and four sacks. His weakness so far has been the run game and disengaging with blockers. He is a bit undersized at 235 so bulking up might help him some. He is definitely a developmental project.

Devere Levelston – SMU

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Devere is another guy who didn’t play much in 2020, just eight games and less than 200 snaps. He produced all of five pressures, six tackles, but one sack. Come 2021 he came in and started every game and had a big year with 31 pressures, and 6.5 sacks. He showed that he has NFL talent. His main weakness right now is his play against the run. He will be a junior in 2022. If he has a big season he could come out.

Anthony Goodlow – Tulsa

Goodlow is on the bigger side for an edge rusher at 6’4 274 and his athleticism is at best average. He is smart and technically sound. He showed small improvements each season. It all culminated in a career year in 2021. While he didnt have big sack numbers with only six, he did have 43 pressures. He is also a very good run defender. He probably won’t be able to play in a 3-4 defense unless its as a 5-tech. Teams that like big strong defensive ends will like him.

Linebacker:

Tatum Bethune – FSU

Bethune goes 5’11 227 so he is obviously undersized. He transferred from UCF to FSU. 2021 was his second year as a starter. He really played well and showed that he had the talent to play in the NFL. He was all around a solid player. Good against the run, could blitz (17 pressures and 2 sacks), and was decent in coverage (2 INTs). He is a play maker. Him and Gainer could combine for a pretty dynamic duo this season.

Antonio Grier Jr. – USF

Grier is similar in size and athleticism to Bethune. While he is undersized he is well built. He plays inside linebacker for USF, but due to his size he will have to play weakside linebacker. The current Bull is not very good against the run, but being able to play on the weakside in the NFL will help him and will allow him to use his athleticism more. For a smaller backer he is a decent blitzer, and he also picked off two passes. He does need to clean up the missed tackles from 2021. He may never be anything more than a back up and special teamer, but he has a shot at getting drafted.

Darius Muasau – UCLA

Muasau is a transfer from Hawaii where he played really well the last two seasons. Collecting a combined 210 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 37 pressures, five forced fumbles, two interceptions (1 returned for a 75 yard TD), and five passes defensed. He is not huge, but he has the size that we are seeing with a lot of linebackers these days. Muasau is 6’1 235. He is a good but not elite athlete. The former Rainbow Warrior could be in line for an even bigger season in 2022 if he can pick up UCLA’s new defense quickly.

Cornerback:

Josh DeBerry – Boston College

DeBerry has decent size at 5’11, but a little under weight at around 180. He is a decent athlete. He has also shown improvement every season. The current Eagle had his best season in 2021 with two picks and two passes defensed. DeBerry has been a solid all around player who might not be exceptional at any one thing, but he can do a little of everything. He obviously needs to add some bulk/strength to his frame and if he can continue on his path he should be a solid mid round pick.

Jaylin Williams – Indiana

Williams has played a lot in his time at Indiana and has actually been a solid cover guy since he got there. Early on his issues were with run defense and tackling, but he improved his tackling each season and his run defense came around in 2020 and 2021. He is a little undersized at 5’10 180 and his arms are a little short at 29 3/4″. Williams might be destined to play the slot in the NFL. He did allow four touchdowns in 2021 so he will have to work on that.

Jermari Harris – Iowa

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After redshirting in 2019 he played just 32 snaps in 2020. In 2021 though he ended up starting six of of Iowa’s last seven games. He played well, a bit inconsistent but overall he played well for a guy who only had 32 snaps the previous season. He also surprisingly had four interceptions on the year and three pass break ups. Now a redshirt junior, Harris could come out if he has a big season and becomes more consistent and improves his play against the run.

Ronald Williams – Michigan State

Williams is an interesting story. He was a high school quarterback that had to go the JC route. He plays two seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) and then transfers to Alabama. Williams plays just 27 snaps at Alabama in 2020. He didn’t show much in that short time. Then he transfers to Michigan State and ends up starting nine games out of 13. He had a couple bad games but overall was solid in coverage. One of his issues though was his tackling where he missed 10 tackles. He also lacks great athleticism. Williams does have long arms and a big wingspan. If he learns to use that and play with it he could have a shot at getting drafted.

Arquon Bush – Cincinnati

Bush has bided his time at Cincinnati being stuck behind Sauce Gardner and Kobe Bryant. He has played only slot in his time at Cincinnati. 2022 will be his first chance to show that he can play on the outside. He has ok size with good athleticism. The issue though is his arms are only 29 3/4″ long and even his wingspan is just 73″. He does have seven career interceptions which is pretty good for a nickel back. His play against the run and tackling could be improved. If he can prove that he can play outside that will go a long way into boosting his draft stock.

Malik Flemings – East Carolina

Flemings is very similar in size to his former teammate Ja’Quan McMillan who declared early for the draft but went undrafted. He is about 5’9 180. The big difference between the two is speed. Flemings is a good portion faster; but he does project to a similar role in the NFL as a slot corner. He is a very solid player all around. Due to his better athleticism he should hear his name called in 2023.

Safety:

Kaevon Merriweather – Iowa

Merriweather became a first time starter in 2020 after not playing much in 2018 and 2019. In that shortened season he showed some flashes, but didn’t produce a lot. Enter 2021 and he showed a lot of improvement against the run and as a tackler. He surprisingly has played well in coverage both seasons. The current Hawkeye has one interception and four pass break ups in that time. With Merriweather though he still is more of a strong safety/box safety type. He could play some free of course but he’s best near the line of scrimmage.

Kitan Oladapo – Oregon State

Oladapo did not play much at all until 2020 where he started one game. He didn’t show a lot, he was actually bad in coverage giving up three touchdowns in just six games. He came back in 2021 and ended up starting 12 of 13 games and showed big improvements in coverage. The current Beaver had one interception and seven pass break ups. Also he contributed 69 tackles and a sack. Oladapo played mostly strong safety but played a good amount at free and even took some snaps in the slot. Long term he is more of a strong safety. His run fits do need some work.

Juawan Treadwell – Liberty

Juawan is the brother of Laquan Treadwell. Although has a different body type. He goes about 5’11 200 and runs about a 4.6. He has played strong safety and slot at Liberty. Treadwell even started some games in 2020 at strong safety. It looks like he will be moving back into the starting lineup in 2022. He has shown he has versatility. While his career stats are not much to look at his play has been solid and has shown potential as a safety/slot in the NFL. It would be interesting to see Liberty put him at free and see what he can do.

Quindell Johnson – Memphis

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Johnson became a full time starter in 2020 after playing really well in a back up role in 2019. He has played free, strong, and even slot. although his interception numbers fell in 2021 he played even better in coverage. He played really well overall in 2021. If he could improve as a blitzer and cut down on the touchdowns given up in coverage (8 the last two seasons) he could go as high as day two.

Kendarin Ray – Tulsa

Ray had a semi breakout season in 2020. First he is 6’3 208 and runs a 4.55. He didn’t have any interceptions but did have six pass break ups and 63 tackles in a shortened season. He started off 2021 not playing up to his play from the previous season in coverage. Then he got hurt in his 6th game and didn’t play the rest of the season. Ray has talent and upside as a strong safety/slot defender. He just needs to get back to his 2020 play and stay healthy.

JL Skinner – Boise State

Skinner had some low key hype on him going into the 2022 draft. He flirted with entering and was close to it. Skinners first season as a starter was 2020 where he was ok, got burned a few times but also made some plays. Enter 2021 and he had a really good season. He was one of the more well rounded safety’s in college football last season. He had 92 tackles, two interceptions, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. Skinner played both free and strong. The current Bronco did show some inconsistencies in coverage from game to game. If he could fix that in 2022 he could be one of the top safties drafted. He is 6’4 210 and runs a sub 4.5. He could be a really good free safety at the NFL level.

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